Suspended attorney seeks reinstatement to the bar

Suspended attorney seeks reinstatement to the bar

Dawn A. Segal, a former judge who was removed from the bench and had her law-license suspended due to misconduct, is pursuing her reinstatement to the Pennsylvania bar.

Segal, an out lesbian, served as a municipal-court judge between January 2010 and February 2016. She was permanently removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in November 2017, after engaging in several improper conversations with former Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr. about cases pending before her. 

Between 2011-12, Waters had phone conversations with Segal, indicating to Segal that she should issue specific rulings in three separate cases. Segal issued the rulings but later told authorities she would have done so regardless of Waters’ desires. Waters later served time in federal prison on corruption charges. However, Segal wasn’t charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

The phone conversations between Segal and Waters were intercepted by the FBI, which was investigating corruption among Philadelphia judges at the time. After her removal from the bench, Segal practiced law but subsequently consented to having her law license suspended for a year and a day. Since May 2019, she’s worked as a paralegal at Ostroff Injury Law Firm in Blue Bell, Pa.

Segal, 60, now seeks to have her law license reinstated. On Aug. 19, she participated in a three-hour virtual hearing before representatives of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board. Segal testified that she felt deep remorse for her transgressions. 

“I feel that I have grown personally and professionally through this whole process,” Segal told three attorneys who must issue a recommendation to the Disciplinary Board regarding Segal’s possible reinstatement. Those attorneys are Christopher M. Fox, Kathryn C. Douglas and Debra A. Jensen.

During the hearing, Segal repeatedly acknowledged the gravity of her misconduct. “I failed in an enormous way with Waters,” she testified. “I debased the system. I shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t protect the integrity of the system. I will not let that happen again.”

Segal said she’d like to perform pro-bono work and she’ll continue to espouse social-justice causes, even if she isn’t reinstated to the bar. “We’re in such difficult times,” she said. “I’ll still go forward with a [COVID-19] mask and make a difference.”

Segal’s wife, attorney Nancy D. Wasser, emphasized Segal’s volunteer work in the community. “She’s there for people,” Wasser testified. “She puts herself out.” The women have been together for 34 years and have two children, Wasser said.

Jacob R.W. Segal, one of Segal’s children, testified that Segal always taught him the difference between right and wrong. 

“She was the moral compass in my life,” Jacob said. He said Segal has learned from her mistakes and has grown to be a better person. “She always wants to do the right thing,” Jacob added. “I have no doubt this [misconduct] won’t be an issue moving forward. She’s made changes to ensure that will not happen again.”

Segal’s employer, Jonathan Ostroff, said Segal is a hard worker. “Dawn’s work ethic is outstanding,” Ostroff testified. He also said Segal is very careful to not practice law while working as a paralegal. “She understood the limitations she had as a paralegal and adhered to those restrictions,” Ostroff asserted.

Ostroff said he’s aware of Segal’s prior misconduct but also believes she acts with integrity.  “It [misconduct] wasn’t behavior that I would accept in my office,” Ostroff continued. “It was a misstep on her part…She would be an incredible asset to the bar. She’ll uphold all the best of what a lawyer can be.”

The three-attorney panel of Douglas, Fox and Jensen didn’t issue a recommendation about Segal’s reinstatement during the hearing. More paperwork is expected to be submitted before they do so. The final decision will be made by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If all goes well for Segal, it’s possible she’ll have her law license reinstated by January 2021. 

Justin F. Robinette, a civil-rights attorney who viewed the hearing, expressed hope that Segal will be treated with compassion. 

“Dawn Segal’s conversations with Joe Waters were inappropriate, to say the least,” Robinette told PGN. “But she’s suffered enough by being permanently removed from the bench. It’s time to stop with the punishment and [to] focus on her fitness as an attorney. In my opinion, it would be appropriate to give this person another chance.”

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.